The Art of The Steal

Good artist copy; great artist steal. — Steve Jobs, stolen from Pablo Picasso

Steve Jobs, like Pablo Picasso before him was an innovator. Where Pablo Picasso saw a canvas Steve Jobs saw a screen. Where Pablo Picasso used a brush like so many before him, Steve Jobs stole a mouse and if Evan Spiegel wants Snapchat to blossom, he’ll need to learn to steal as well.

In 1979, Jobs was given a tour of the research laboratories of Xerox. His reluctant hosts knew what was going to happen and had protested his visit. The reason; a breakthrough in the ability to interact with computers, a game changer, a tide changing idea called “The Mouse” and its bright companion the “Graphical User Interface”, or GUI. Together, these new ideas would shift the personal computers as something used by hobbyist, to the masses. It would enable Windows to make Bill Gates the world’s richest person. But as legend has it Steve Jobs stole the mouse. But Jobs couldn’t have stolen the mouse, the idea wasn’t that of Xerox, it was the brainchild of computer scientist Douglas Engelbart. Credit where credits due, Xerox had successfully turned Engelbart’s vision into a reality, but for his own part, Jobs turned Xerox’s reality into a commercial viability. Jobs took an idea, put it through the mincer that is Apple and turned out a masterpiece.


Fast forward to present day. Snapchat has just had an IPO and has minted a few more billionaires and many millionaires. They have created a great core product but just like Steve Jobs before him, Evan Spiegel now must adjust to the new reality, a very public reality. His stock is plummeting, and as of now, it currently sits around $14 per share, below its IPO price of $17 a share, and well below the $27 it achieved a few days after trading started. Brian Nowak, an analyst of Snapchat’s biggest IPO underwriter, Morgan Stanley, has said “We have been wrong about Snap’s ability to innovate and improve its ad product this year (improving scalability, targeting, measurability, etc.) and user monetization”, causing the banking giant to strike down it’s share price estimates, causing the first in a series of stabs. Why have they done this? As Nowak continues “Snap’s ad product is not evolving/improving as quickly as we expected and Instagram competition is increasing.”
“Instagram competition is increasing”, those four words carry the most weight by far.

Since its launch on October 2013, Stories has grown into a beast of its own. Originally a platform to enable users to generate something a little more lasting, but still retaining the original disappearing ethos Its true value is its ability to filter in ad content. 173 million people are accessing snapchat daily according to the company’s Q2 2017 report. This is a huge number, but not as big as the 250+ million users Instagram Stories has achieved in the year it has been operational. The same 250+ million that has Brian Nowak slashing stock prices. The problem deepens when Snapchat has been unable to give good enough user growth. Rises of 6 or 7 million won’t cut it after previous growth in the tens of millions. It has been well documented that Facebook’s, Mark Zuckerberg wants the young user base that dominate Snapchats demographics. Previous efforts to clone Snapchat through Poke, and Slingshot have failed just a horrendously as the $3 billion, all greenback buyout. A great decision by Spiegel, but now calls for another great decision. One that Jobs had no problems with years before, and Facebook has used to gain the upper hand on Snapchat. To steal, to borrow and to make better.

Credit: Techcrunch

Stories has been a disaster in Facebook and Messenger, but has thrived in the photo centric Instagram. Although their core product is different, Instagram and Snapchat are much the same. Young audiences, centered around influencers and importantly photo sharing core. This is why stories translates so well in Instagram, the product is arguably not as good, but with a few words the steal becomes a forgotten truth, and all is forgiven. “(Snapchat) deserve all the credit” Instagram’s CEO told techcrunch. The world moves on, they don’t care why they now have stories on Instagram, they care which influencer makes a post. That young core demographic moves to Instagram as the influencers do. The blind follow the blind.

Snapchat need to strike back and draw blood, Instablood. They need to swallow their pride and strike into the heart of of Instagram’s money making machine that is the algorithmic news feed. With all the engineers that Snapchat has around, surely one has tinkered with adding in a photo feed. Their vast network of beta testers could easily send warning shots back across to Facebook. “Instafeed is coming” they will roar. The feed will be a game changer for Snapchat, no company can rest on its laurels, it needs to confront its competitors front on. Take what makes them great and incorporate into their own product. Call it stealing, call it improving, call it whatever you want. I call it survival. And that’s is where Snapchat is, survival. Don’t go building on what you have, a pretty little map isn’t enough, an influencer won’t want their location known. But an influencer will want to share a sponsored post with you. Make the influencers happy, and let them bring back your lost users.

It’s time for Snapchat to stop settling with innovators, and start embracing them, bringing in talent that thinks outside of the box — the Snapchat box. Start looking at competitors and taking what’s best about them and finding ways to incorporate them into their product. Don’t wait until your relevance is gone to steal, do it whilst you’re in the spotlight. Shine brighter than the Mac’s GUI interface did the first time Steve Jobs saw it. Then and only then can they stand a chance to gain back some momentum.